Israel kills dozens of Palestinians in Gaza; fear of war spillover grows after US strikes on Iraq and Syria - as it happened

Ahram Online , Saturday 3 Feb 2024

As the war enters its 120th day, Israel continues massacres in Gaza, killing at least two dozen civilians in airstrikes in Rafah and Deir Al-Balah; Palestinian resistance engages in fierce clashes with Israeli forces in several areas of the strip; US strikes on Syria and Iraq raise fears of the war spillover.

Men recite a prayer over the bodies of people killed in Israeli bombardment at the Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 3, 2024, as fighting continues between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. Photo: AFP


22:20 A senior Hamas official said Saturday that a final agreement has not yet been reached over a tentative truce deal to pause the nearly four-month war with Israel in Gaza.

Hamas leaders were reviewing a proposed framework thrashed out by top officials from Israel, Qatar, Egypt and the United States, but more time was needed to "announce our position", said Osama Hamdan, a top Hamas official in Lebanon.

He told a news conference that his movement "has repeatedly said" it was "open to discussing any initiative... putting an end to this barbaric aggression against our Palestinian people".

But while Hamdan confirmed the group had received the truce proposal drafted by mediators in Paris, he said an agreement had not yet been reached and that the plan was missing some details.

"We will announce our position" soon, "based on... our desire to put an end as quickly as possible to the aggression that our people suffer", he added.

22:00 A wave of large-scale protests condemning the ongoing Israeli aggression in Gaza has swept across several cities, with demonstrators expressing their support for the Palestinian people and calling for an immediate ceasefire. These protests have taken place in Frankfurt and Berlin in Germany, Geneva in Switzerland, Paris in France, and London in the United Kingdom.

In Frankfurt, Germany, a massive march unfolded, denouncing the Israeli aggression in Gaza. Demonstrators passionately chanted slogans against Israeli crimes and expressed solidarity with the Palestinians. Similar scenes played out in Berlin, where people rallied against the ongoing violence and expressed their support for the Palestinian cause.

In Geneva, outside the United Nations Offices, a demonstration advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza and standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people took place. French Founder of La France Insoumise (LFI) party Jean-Luc Melenchon and French LFI member of Parliament Sophia Chikirou delivered speeches, emphasizing the need for peace and justice.

Paris witnessed a demonstration at the Place de la Republique, where protesters held up cardboard replicas of the Palestinian flag. The gathering aimed to show support for Palestinians amid the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza.

In London, campaigners marched from the BBC's headquarters to the heart of government at Whitehall, marking their eighth protest since the Israel-Gaza war began. Chants demanding a ceasefire and condemning the UK's decision to cut off funds to the aid agency UNRWA resonated outside the gates of Downing Street.

Check our photo gallery here.

21:00 The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has dispatched a ship carrying vital aid to Gaza, including food, medicines, shelter materials, and essential items for women and children. The vessel set sail from Fujairah Port on Saturday, carrying provisions urgently needed by Palestinians affected by the Israel-Gaza war.

The aid shipment, organized by UAE charitable groups, consists of more than 4,500 tonnes of goods, such as mattresses, tents, and food. This support aims to assist Palestinians in their preparations for Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar.

Flying the UAE flag, the ship is expected to reach Egypt's Al Arish port in approximately 15 days. Upon arrival, the aid will be transported by lorries to the Rafah border crossing, facilitating its entry into Gaza.

Since the outbreak of the war, Israel has imposed a complete blockade on the Gaza Strip, cutting off all food, water, fuel, and medical supplies.

Egypt has since been facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid from different destinations through the Rafah border crossing and, recently, through the Karm Abu Salem crossing.

20:00 Osama Hamdan, a senior leader of the Hamas movement, stated that Hamas's response to the proposed framework presented during the Paris meeting would be contingent upon the cessation of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza. according to Quds News Network. 

He further emphasized the importance of allowing aid to reach the residents of Gaza before engaging in any fair exchange deal.

Hamdan highlighted that the top priority for Hamas and other Palestinian factions is to alleviate the suffering in the Gaza Strip through a comprehensive cessation of Israeli aggression. 

Hamas officials said Friday that the group is studying a proposed cease-fire deal that would include prolonged pauses in fighting in Gaza and swaps of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, but the militants appeared to rule out some key components.

Hamas remains committed to its initial demands for a permanent cease-fire, the group's top political leader Ismail Haniyeh and a senior Beirut-based official, Osama Hamdan had said on Friday.

Hamdan also said the group seeks the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners being held for acts related to the conflict with Israel, including those serving life sentences.

After days of expressing optimism over progress toward a deal, mediators were still working to close wide gaps between Israel and Hamas. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned to fly to the region Sunday to help push the efforts, making stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank, the State Department said.

19:00 The Ministry of Health in Gaza has released its latest toll, revealing the devastating impact of the Israeli occupation's aggression on the Palestinian population.

In the past 24 hours alone, the ministry reports that 12 massacres targeting families in Gaza have resulted in 107 deaths and 165 injuries.

These alarming numbers underscore the relentless violence and loss of life experienced by Palestinians in the region.

Since October 7th of the previous year, the cumulative death toll from the Israeli aggression has risen to a staggering 27,238 martyrs, with an additional 66,452 individuals sustaining injuries. 

18:30 Yehuda Vald, the Director General of the Religious Zionism party, has confirmed the deliberate setting of fire to Palestinian houses during the invasion of Gaza.

Vald's remarks came to light in an Israeli article that exposed Israeli generals commanding soldiers to burn down homes belonging to Palestinians in Gaza. 

The Director General of the Religious Zionism Party stated: "Yes, we set fire to houses. As much as possible. And we are proud of it."

Genocidal comments from Israeli Officials have become widespread since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza. 

With the ground offensive getting underway in late October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited the Bible in a televised address: “You must remember what Amalek has done to you.” Amalekites were persecutors of the biblical Israelites, and a biblical commandment says they must be destroyed. South Africa argued that the remarks showed Israel's intent to commit genocide against Palestinians.

Two days after the Hamas operation, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel was “fighting human animals,” in announcing a complete siege on Gaza.

Deputy Knesset speaker Nissim Vaturi from the ruling Likud party wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Israelis had one common goal, “erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth.” Israeli Heritage Minister Amichay Eliyahu, from the far-right Jewish Power party, suggested that Israel drop a nuclear bomb on Gaza and said there were “no uninvolved civilians” in the territory.

Israeli soldiers were caught on video making similar remarks as they sang and danced in the early days of Israel’s ground offensive.

On 7 October, a journalist wrote on X that Gaza should become “a slaughterhouse” if the roughly 250 captives held by Hamas were not returned.

Such inflammatory rhetoric was a key component of South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide at the UN World Court

The ICJ directed Israel to take effective measures to prevent and punish direct and public incitement to commit genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

17:00 Islam Bader, a Palestinian journalist, has finally been able to return to his now-destroyed home in northern Gaza after enduring four months of displacement.

Upon his return, he was confronted with the devastating aftermath of Israeli missile strikes that had reduced his house and neighbourhood to rubble.

Bader discovered that Israeli soldiers had occupied his home during the invasion.

Surveying the remnants of his house, he expressed unwavering faith and resilience, declaring, "With God's help, we will rebuild."

Israel withdrew a significant number of troops from northern Gaza last month after the Israeli bombardment and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip had forced the majority of the territory's 2.3 million to flee their homes, leaving them homeless and displaced.

During Israel's ground offensive, many homes and buildings were left half-standing or reduced to piles of scrap, rubble and dust.

With homes reduced to rubble and neighbourhoods decimated, the people of Gaza have sought refuge in overcrowded communal shelters established in United Nations schools or makeshift camps hastily set up along the streets of Rafah, near Gaza's southern border with Egypt, as well as a few other centres.

A United Nations official on Friday said Rafah was becoming a “pressure cooker of despair.”

The living conditions in these shelters and camps are challenging, with limited access to necessities and overcrowding exacerbating the already dire situation.

16:30 American forces on Friday shot down eight airborne drones near Yemen and destroyed four more on the ground that were ready to be launched by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the US military said.

A US naval destroyer shot down one drone Friday morning and fighter jets and another warship downed seven later in the day, while American forces destroyed four more on the ground before they could be launched, the US Central Command said Saturday on social media.

15:15 Russia accused the United States of "sowing chaos and destruction" in the Middle East after Washington launched air strikes against armed groups in Iraq and Syria.

"Washington, confident in its impunity, is continuing its sowing of chaos and destruction in the Middle East," Moscow's foreign ministry said, adding that it "decisively condemned" the strikes.

15:10 Thousands of people have joined a pro-Palestinian demonstration in central London to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Protesters have gathered outside the BBC's headquarters near Oxford Circus and started a march to Whitehall where speakers, including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, will address the crowd.

14:45 Hamas has begun deploying police forces and making partial salary payments to some of the civil servants in Gaza City in recent days, resurfacing in areas from which Israel had withdrawn the bulk of its troops a month ago, four residents and a senior official in the resistance group told The Associated Press.

Signs of a Hamas resurgence in the Gaza Strip's largest city underscore the group's resilience despite Israel's deadly air and ground brutal attacks over the past four months.

In recent days, Israeli forces renewed strikes in the western and northwestern parts of Gaza City, including in areas where some of the salary distributions were reported to have taken place.

Four Gaza City residents told The AP that in recent days, uniformed and plainclothes police officers deployed near police headquarters and other government offices, including near Shifa Hospital, the territory's largest medical facility.

The residents said they saw both the return of civil servants and subsequent Israeli airstrikes near the makeshift offices.

The return of police marks an attempt to reinstate order in the devastated city after Israel withdrew a significant number of troops from northern Gaza last month, a Hamas official told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said the group’s leaders had given directions to reestablish order in parts of the north where Israeli forces had withdrawn, including helping prevent the looting of shops and houses abandoned by residents who had heeded repeated Israeli evacuation orders and headed to the southern half of Gaza.

14:15 Here are some of the most recent photos coming from Gaza today.

A man reacts upon identifying the body of a relative killed in Israeli bombardment at the Najjar hospital in Rafah. AFP

Personal objects salvaged from the rubble of homes are piled up following Israeli bombardment in Rafah. AFP

A man checks the destruction caused by Israeli bombardment in Rafah. AFP

Check our photo gallery here.

14:00 Israeli attacks in the eastern part of Rafah have killed 24 Palestinians, including children. Initial reports placed the number of victims at 12, but more died of their wounds due to the insufficient number of medical staff and the shortage of medical supplies, Al Jazeera correspondent reported.

"Proper care was impossible and they lost their lives on the floor of the hospital as they waited for doctors to check on them," the TV network said.

There are also reports of renewed Israeli artillery shelling in the western part of Gaza City, in the central part of the Strip, around the university complex that includes the Islamic university.

The compound, which was largely destroyed at the beginning of the war, was turned into a shelter for displaced citizens.

According to Al Jazeera, sources there say the Israeli occupation army is now demolishing the remaining residential buildings in the area by detonation.

In Khan Younis, southern Gaza, there are also reports of renewed airstrikes and confrontations between Palestinian resistance groups and the Israeli army.

12:45 Iraq's government spokesman Bassem Al-Awadi revealed in a statement that 16 people, including civilians, were killed and 25 others injured in the attacks carried out by the United States on Friday night.

Al-Awadi vehemently denied any prior coordination between Washington and Iraqi officials regarding the airstrikes, refuting the claims made by the US, as "misleading."

The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Chargé d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also condemned the US attacks on its soil, warning that "the American aggression on our territory dangerously exacerbates the conflict in the Middle East region."

"We condemn the American violation of our lands and reject all the pretexts and lies promoted by the US administration to justify this aggression," the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.

Meanwhile, Iran's foreign ministry spokesperson "strongly" condemned US attacks on Iraq and Syria. 

In a statement, Nasser Kanaani described the American strikes as "violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of both countries.

He said the attacks represent "another adventurous and strategic mistake by the United States that will result only in increased tension in instability in the region."

12:00 Israel killed at least 27,238 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the most recent toll revealed by the health ministry.

The toll includes 107 killings over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, while another 66,452 people have been wounded in Gaza since the war broke out on 7 October.

11:45 The European Union expressed deep concern over reports that the Israeli military intends to take its war on Gaza to the town of Rafah at Gaza’s border with Egypt where more than a million people have escaped the fighting.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that around 1 million Palestinians “have been displaced progressively against the Egyptian border. Israel claimed they were safe zones, but in fact, what we see is that the bombing affecting the civilian population continues and it is creating a very dire situation.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that after Israeli troops seize the southern city of Khan Younis, from where tens of thousands of people have fled, they will move on to Rafah. He did not give a time frame.

Such an attack could push the refugees into Egypt, undermining Israel's peace agreement with the country and angering the United States. It might also torpedo slow-moving peace talks with Hamas and complicate efforts to release scores of Israeli captives.

The prospect of a ground war in Rafah has raised fears about where the population would go to find safety. The United Nations said the town is becoming a “pressure cooker of despair.”

Speaking in Brussels before chairing informal talks among EU foreign ministers, Borrell said that the Israeli war on Gaza has created “a domino effect,” with conflict also erupting in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and in the Red Sea area.

“We are living in a critical situation in the Middle East, in the whole region,” he said. “As long as the war in Gaza continues, it is very difficult to believe that the situation in the Red Sea will improve, because one thing is related with the other.”

11:23 More Palestinians, recently released from Israeli captivity in Gaza, continue to report harrowing accounts of torture and abuse during their detention.

The Israeli army has kidnapped dozens of civilians from across the Gaza Strip since the commencement of its ground attack on 27 October.

The detained endured confinement ranging from days to weeks before being released in groups.

Those seeking medical treatment at Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah recounted the traumatic experiences they faced during their time in Israeli custody, as reported by Al Quds news network.

Khaled al-Nabris, a 48-year-old resident of Khan Yunis, the largest city in southern Gaza, revealed the harsh conditions during his captivity. "From the moment we entered until we left, torture was incessant, even the place where we slept was invaded by dogs. The temperature was cold, with only one blanket, and they would spray water on us," said al-Nabris.

He added that during the initial 72 hours, they were deprived of drinking, eating, or using the restroom, with their hands bound and eyes blindfolded for the entire seven days of detention.

Thousands of Palestinian men may have been detained by Israeli forces, since the beginning of the war, facing conditions that could amount to torture, Ajith Sunghay, the UN's human rights representative in the Palestinian territories said.

Some of those released have reported being blindfolded, beaten, and ultimately freed wearing only diapers, Sunghay said.

Sunghay said their testimonies were consistent with reports that the UN human rights office has received on the detention of Palestinians on a broad scale, "including many civilians, held in secrecy, often subject to ill-treatment" and with no access to their families, lawyers or effective judicial protection.

Israeli soldiers have rounded up scores of Gazans during their months-long ground offensive in the territory, holding them without charge before releasing some in groups.

The Gaza crossings authority said 114 detainees, including four women, were sent through Israel's Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing on Thursday.

The health ministry said the group included Mohammed al-Ran, head of the surgery department at the Indonesian hospital in northern Gaza.

11:15 European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on all parties to avoid further escalation in the Middle East after US strikes on Syria and Iraq.

"Everybody should try to avoid that the situation becomes explosive," Borrell said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

Borrell did not address the US strikes directly, but repeated a warning that the Middle East "is a boiler that can explode".

He pointed to the Israeli war on Gaza, violence along the Lebanese border, bombings in Iraq and Syria and attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

"That's why we call everybody to try to avoid an escalation," Borrell said.

10:27 The Israeli occupation forces severely assaulted and attacked two former Palestinian prisoners in the town of Ya’bad, west of Jenin, Palestine News Agency (WAFA), reported.

Asaad Amr, 27, and Hosni Amr, 29, were detained by Israeli forces after intercepting the vehicle they were travelling in within the town. The forces then forced them out of the vehicle and brutally assaulted and beat them before detaining them.

The occupation forces continued to storm the town of Ya'bad for hours, deploying their military vehicles heavily throughout the streets and neighbourhoods. Intense confrontations between local nts and Israeli occupation forces erupted following the army incursion.

10:25 The Iraqi resistance has launched missile attacks targeting the Tanf military base in Syria, which hosts US personnel, in retaliation for American attacks.

Additionally, this morning, it carried out a drone attack on the Ain al-Assad base in western Iraq, where both coalition and US troops are stationed.

According to Al Jazeera, sources within the Popular Mobilisation Forces report that US airstrikes struck Anbar province. Three military personnel were killed, with 15 others wounded, and several civilian houses were damaged.

The extent of the damage caused by the US air raids on Iraq is still being assessed, but the Iraqi military has issued a statement condemning the attacks.

“These air strikes constitute a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, and pose a threat that could lead Iraq and the region into dire consequences. The outcomes will have severe implications on the security and stability in Iraq and the surrounding region,” said Yahya Rasool, the Iraqi military spokesperson.

10:08 Al Jazeera correspondents are reporting fierce clashes between Palestinian resistance groups and the Israeli army west of Gaza City during air and artillery strikes.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah, claimed responsibility for blowing up an Israeli military vehicle, resulting in casualties among Israeli soldiers.

Additionally, clashes and shelling are ongoing in Khan Younis city, located in southern Gaza.

09:51 More than 110 hours have passed, and the fate of the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance team, Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al Madhoun, who went to rescue a 6-year-old girl named Hind, remains unknown.

"Horrified by the reports about the killing of civilians, including Palestine RCS staff, at the Al-Amal hospital compound today and in the past two days in Khan Younis," said Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"We cannot say it louder: hospitals MUST be protected, not attacked nor militarized. Ceasefire!" he added.

09:50 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will make, this weekend, his fifth trip to the Middle East since the Israeli war on Gaza erupted in October.

The State Department says Blinken will depart Washington on Sunday and travel to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank for talks with regional leaders that will last for most of next week.

The US continues to oppose any ceasefire in the ongoing brutal Israeli war and has vetoed all UN resolutions on the matter. Each visit by Blinken to the region has coincided with an escalation of Israeli killings of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Blinken “will continue diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement that secures the release of all remaining captives and includes a humanitarian pause that will allow for sustained, increased delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,” department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement on Friday.

“He will continue to work to prevent the spread of the conflict while reaffirming that the United States will take appropriate steps to defend its personnel and the right to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea,” Miller said.

“The secretary will also continue discussions with partners on how to establish a more integrated, peaceful region that includes lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Blinken’s latest trip comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity and discussions over a new possible deal for a pause in Israeli military attacks in exchange for the release of Israeli detainees held in Gaza. Talks between the US, Qatar, Egypt and Israel to explore potential arrangements were held last weekend in Paris with participants saying they were productive but remained very much a work in progress.

But the trip also comes as fears have grown in recent days for the possible escalation of the conflict with continued attacks on US bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan as well as stepped-up military strikes against commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi.

09:29 Hamas is demanding the release of Marwan Barghouti, the highest-profile prisoner in the Israeli jails, as part of a deal of prisoner swap with Israel. 

Barghouti who has spent more than two decades behind the occupation bars, is viewed by many Palestinians as their Nelson Mandela.

09:10 A TV channel affiliated with the Houthis reports that American and British aircraft carried out three raids on the city of Saada in northwest Yemen.

09:00 Israel killed more than a dozen Palestinians, including children and women, in three separate airstrikes in Deir el-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, and in Raf the southernmost city in the besieged territory.

About 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into Rafah, near the border with Egypt, camping out in residential buildings or on the streets without basic infrastructure.

Displaced Palestinians are bracing for the possibility of the Israeli occupation army carrying out attacks on their last refuge. Israel previously described Rafah as a “safe zone” and ordered Palestinians to move there, but the strikes in the area persisted.

​Another Palestinian was also killed after being directly shot by an Israeli sniper in the Al-Nasr neighbourhood in Gaza City.

Simultaneously, Israeli fighter jets carried out intense airstrikes that targeted various areas west of Gaza City.

In a preliminary toll, the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip since 7 October has resulted in the murder of 27,131 and left 66,287 injured.

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